Any student worth their salt can tell you in the infamous words of Cady Heron: that Halloween is “the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” UK shoppers are expected to spend upwards of £300m on Halloween this year, and with companies churning out more and more bizarre costumes for women (‘Sexy Hulk Hogan’, anyone?), the pressure to look provocative for Halloween feels stronger than ever.
The double standard of our sexually commodified Halloween culture isn’t hard to spot; a quick Google search of ‘policewoman’ versus ‘policeman’ costumes will certainly give you the gist. For women, the imperative is to present yourself as an object of desire, a pressure that is almost non-existent for men. What was once a childhood game of fancy dress has become a pursuit of sexualisation and this makes the holiday almost bland. Search ‘Sexy Halloween Costume’ on Amazon and you’ll be presented with 12,554 results, try the same phrase with ‘Scary’ and you’ll find just 3,416 suggestions.
Many projects are out there trying to change the balance however. Takebackhalloween.org are an organisation committed to presenting women with an alternative to the witch or sexy schoolgirl, with suggestions such as Amelia Earhart, Boudicca or Medusa. It seems crucial, amidst our obsession with sex, that these alternatives are available, because there’s got to be more to the season of scare than cleavage and cat costumes.
The effect of this sexualisation of Halloween isn’t entirely negative, however. In a culture where the sexual woman is so vehemently demonised (just look at media responses to Rihanna or Miley Cyrus), Halloween can offer women a night of escape from judgement of their exposed sexuality. Halloween is a space of 24 hours in which women can wear their sexuality like a badge of honour with no fear of being branded a ‘slut’. In fact in our modern day conception of the festival, it seems the more skin on show, the better the costume. Perhaps there is something to be said, however, for the way that we see a girl dressed in a ‘slutty’ fashion as the most appropriate costume for a celebration preoccupied with the scary, deviant and evil. If women dress in such a way for the festival of the demonic and the frightening, what does this say for society’s ability to take a sexually confident woman seriously for the rest of the year?
While it’s imperative that women don’t feel pressured into sexualising their costumes, it’s equally important to respect that some women do simply enjoy the opportunity to show a little more skin and have fun with their sexuality. Halloween is your night of fantasy, give it up to whatever identity you want; be it a ‘slutty’ mouse, bed sheet covered ghost, or a paper maché Optimus Prime, embrace your alter ego and don’t let anybody tell you that your fantasy isn’t good enough.